Cycle Specific Attire: The good, The bad And The Worth Owning

Riding a bike in the city wearing business attire is like walking a dog in Central Park. It’s an innocuous, necessary act for some people, but one that they obviously love for the opportunity afforded to parade yuppie status. If carrying a mug of tea made at home past all the cafes is too gratuitous, then a slow bike or a bag full of dog shit is your trick. You want to show all those wannabes that you are a local—just subtly.

Circumstance has spared me from ever being so smug. I’ve never lived a short ride from a high-paying executive job or owned a dog in New York. All I ever did was pretend. For a few months, I rode 30km daily in woolen trousers and a suit jacket between home and work. The crotch wore thin (not as bad as the crotch of my jeans), the jacket lost a good deal of shape, and both the top and bottom are now impregnated with the dried residues of my athletic sweat.

Cycle specific attire

Riding the distances called for by cyclists in sparse Australian or American cities, or even dense cities if they are big ones like London or Paris, simply ruins contemporary clothing. Note how I didn’t say “plain,” “ordinary,” or “regular” clothing. In my opinion, the clothing most people wear these days is far from ordinary. Today’s fashions are a product of peculiar times when clothing is not required actually to do much. We have made a world so excruciatingly soft with indoor environments and transport machines that clothing is purely symbolic. Don’t these skinny white legs look tough in torn jeans:

Bike commuters are the exception. All the bullshit you read about cycle-specific clothes surviving the perineum’s war upon the Brooks saddle and vacuuming sweat like a nappy is not complete bullshit at all. Pockets on the back of business shirts… okay, so those are symbolic and bullshit. On the whole, bike clothes are better for a life exposed to the elements. They can make one or two hours in the saddle each day much more comfortable than if you wore wet cotton jeans with your scrotum peaking out of the crotch seams. And that’s not the worst!

I have the idea with this post that maybe some sort of comment thread will wend its way down the screen, providing the world with a more reliable buyer’s guide to bicycle clothing than the washing machine post has thus far provided. My god, that blog is verbose! (Not like mine). And other bike clothing review sites just copy the guff on the label. It falls to me, yet again, to save the world.

The Good

Cycle specific attire

If you have a long ride every day, with hills involved, there’s a good chance you’re leaning on drop bars. That means you wear gloves (or maybe you’re stupid). I benefited from mates rates at this joint in Portland 4 years ago when buying a pair of Dromarti string/leather mitts. I’ll warn you; a used pair will look nothing like the seductive photos you will see there on Pinterest—more like something a vet has worn to reach in and grab foals. To the touch, though, they’re fine and feel as though they will only get better as we grow older together.

Though not technically clothing, I have two Brooks accouterments that have brought me more pleasure than pets: my Islington Rucksack and my drive-side Devon rear pannier, both of which I found online for about half the price advertised on the Brooks website. Both work precisely as touted and have aphrodisiac effects on females looking for mates. One thing the rucksack doesn’t come with, that you will need to add, is a light and a whistle. That’s to frighten the shit out of the other passengers when you wear it on planes as your hand luggage. “What? You don’t have a parachute?” you can say to anyone nervously glancing your way.

Astronomers are closer to naming all the stars than I am to knowing every rain jacket on the market these days. For $40, you ought to grab anything light to carry scrunched up in an emergency. The holy grail is the waterproof jacket that can be worn inside buildings without making you look like a Swedish backpacker. I studied options to the point of disgust, almost deciding my skin would suffice as my waterproof layer. But I returned to the Cafe du Cycliste Geraldine City Jacket, $282 at Always Riding. Perhaps I just liked that the promotional shots have it worn with my Brooks parachute/rucksack.

The Bad

Cycle specific attire

If you regularly cycle, chances are you have crushed a few lovers with your incredible thighs. That means you will never manage to squeeze them inside Rapha’s jeans—your thighs, that is, not your lovers. And while the denim seems durable, it is interwoven with a superfine fishing line, making it unbearably hot in warm or mild weather. And for all that discomfort, this special denim wears out in the crotch just as quickly. Absolute rubbish. The following photo was taken moments before the crotch of my Rapha jeans exploded like Mr. Creosote’s belly. Rapha graciously replaced them at no cost to me. We’ll see if the next pair last more than a year.

Anything made of Gore-Tex is rubbish as well. Whoever makes that stuff ruined my phone.

The Worth Owning

I think every style-conscious cyclist should know about a boutique company making raincoats in Cambridge. I’m not sure if I’m intrigued or confounded by their refusal to improvise upon the design of a raincoat from the time of King Henry the Eighth. All they have done is update the fabric.

What you get then is a classic raincoat that will make the Vice Chancellor think a dignitary has come onto his or her campus, but one that moves silkily with your body while you’re riding a bike. It could have a back-vent. It could have something to stop the front flaps from splaying apart and exposing your thighs. But it could not be more waterproof, silent, or stylish. I wrote a complete review of it here.

Cycle specific attire

Now to the tootsies. I would not want the job of devising an ad campaign for overshoes, any more than having to make puncture repair kits seem sexy.  Overshoes remind us of everything that presently sucks about cycling. (Don’t worry, one day I will convince planners to cover all bikeways. But that’s a while away yet.)

Overshoes suck to put on and perform torture-by-zipper on your Achilles tendon if you wear your trouser on the outside to shed water. But if you have to ride any distance in drenching rain, in shoes you have chosen for your destination, you have little choice. My best pair are by grip-grab, a brand some friends in Rotterdam put me onto a few years ago. They’re made for cleated racing bike shoes, but fit over dress shoes as well.

There are lots of beanies around. My personal favourite is by culture cycle and is crocheted from cotton and glass strands. The later return the light of their headlights to the eyes of car drivers. I wrote a review of these products here.  

Impossible to find anywhere

I wish I could recommend a pair of trousers that neither wear out from rubbing on the saddle, constrict monstrous thighs, take ages to dry, or feel horrible when they are wet, but alas, I’m yet to find any. My Rapha soft shell trousers feel good on the bike in the rain but feel like an ill-fitting wetsuit when you get off. My regular Rapha pants are rubbish in the rain, but I must say, they are proving quite durable. You’re sure to enjoy this little clip:

But durability and style aren’t enough. I want all-weather comfort! My Primrose swears by her Outlier trousers, but she doesn’t spend enough time in the saddle for me to vouch for their durability. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has owned a pair of epic cotton trousers for more than a year. I would bet they’ve got a hundred-hour lifespan while riding.

I’ve given you the best of my knowledge and finished with a look at my wife’s bottom. All I ask in return is that you share a little of your own knowledge of worth-owning clothes for urban cyclists.

(There’s another thread of responses over at Reddit. Thanks again to Andrew Priest).

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